[Grand Prize] English Is Gateway to New Economy, Culture, Soft Power
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
The importance of English in Korea is definitely on the rise ― there is no doubt about that. For Korea, which lacks in natural resources and is hugely dependent on foreign investment and trade, English is essential since it is what connects us to the world. So the role of English in the Korean economy is also definitely significant but we must be cautious when say this as the economy should not be examined alone since it is correlated with other sectors of a country. Paul Kennedy an American declinist argued in his book,
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, that the growth of a nation is a threefold one: simultaneously to provide military security, to satisfy the socioeconomic needs of its citizenry and to ensure sustained growth.
The growth of an economy must therefore be accompanied with a balanced growth of political, cultural, environmental and social sector. Even a rival theorist Joseph Nye criticized in his book Bound to Lead, the declinist view by reinterpreting the concept of power ― hard power; military and economic power and soft power; the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals and principles.
He also emphasized the importance of a balanced growth of the two different powers, as demise in one will bring down the other. As you can see from these examples, the economy does not stand on its own but rather stands together with other sectors of a country ― social, political, cultural and environmental. We therefore need to see the big picture here as we talk about the role of English in the Korean economy. Thus, the function of English in the Korean economy is much greater than you may have previously predicted as the economy is interconnected with other prominent sectors of a country such as the political and cultural domains.
To begin with, English has played an essential role in spreading and rooting liberal democracy in Korea. Liberal democracy has not only enriched our country with a market economy but also with democracy, which has influenced many fields. It was what transformed a war stricken nation with a per capita income of only U.S. $67 in 1953 and a gross domestic product (GDP) that equaled that of countries in the sub-Saharan region into the world's 13th largest economy just 60 years after the founding of its new government.
English was the key factor that allowed many scholars and leaders of Korea to be educated in the United States. Those who were educated there with new ideologies and culture played a leading role in spreading and rooting liberal democracy in Korea. English is more than just a mere communication tool. It is a gateway to new culture, spirit, ideology and much more. This ideology that was brought in with the help of English is now our fundamental policy and it has so far created an incalculable amount of economic benefits, not to mention the fact that it is a decisive factor that differentiates the South from the North.
In addition, for Korea, the cultural sector is an extremely prospective field if English could be properly adopted to sell our cultural products. First, already the so-called ``Korean Wave'' has swept across Asia and has brought a tremendous amount of economic benefits. Second, international events such as the 1988 Seoul Olympics, 2002 World Cup and many international conferences are great ways to advertise Korea to the world and they have actually boosted our economy up also. According to the Union of International Organization, Korea, having held 268 international conferences, was ranked 15th in terms of numbers.
Third, currently tourism in Korea is on the rise mostly due to the Korean Wave but it still is very little known abroad and suffers from being very low profile. If we can provide abundant information about Korea in English and with the help of a better marketing strategy in tourism industries and the Korea Tourism Organization, tourism here is bound to rise. Benefits we can obtain from the above cultural products are not just limited to short term economic wealth but extend to increased soft power, which can bring about incalculable benefits in the long run. These cultural products will have a deep influence on foreigners' consciousness and furthermore change their perspectives on Korea.
As shown, the role of English in the Korean economy is actually much more than just the conventional thought that its usage is only limited to business and trade. The economy is interconnected with other areas in the country such as the political, cultural, social and environmental sectors. Therefore we need to closely examine other fields if we are to look to the economy. The political and cultural sectors, which seem quite disconnected to the economy, are actually the engines of economic growth and the role of English in these two are tremendous. Imagine the influence it will have if we look at Korea as a whole.